Manual Espresso Maker vs. Espresso Machine: Which Is Best for You?

Published on 03/12/2024 · 10 min readDeciding between a manual espresso maker and an espresso machine? Check out this deep dive to find the best fit for your coffee ritual!
Ethan Hauck, Coffee Expert
By Coffee Expert Ethan Hauck

Photo by Bogu Bogu

Espresso is a magical thing; some (me) may say life-affirming. While it’s a complicated hobby to learn for beginners, brewing high-quality espresso brings a touch of comfort to an otherwise bleak morning — which makes buying the right tools crucial. If you’re torn on whether a manual or automatic espresso machine is the right choice for you, you’ve found the right place.

Not only will we help inform you on how to pick the best espresso maker for you, but I’ve got a few excellent options to peruse below. And if you need more help, our Curated Espresso Experts are here to share our vast knowledge — so reach out!

How to Pick: Manual vs. Espresso Machine

As hard as it is to say, there’s no one right choice for any given person. Espresso is an incredibly personal project, meaning that your specific needs will change what’s best for you compared to Joe down the street.

While Joe may love his Nespresso machine, the ease of use of pods, or his top-tier drip coffee machine, that doesn’t mean that’s what’s right for you. Maybe you want a nice cafe Americano, cappuccino, or maybe you don’t want to shell out for his $10K Rancilio Silvia. Ultimately, preferences matter.

With that said, let’s break down the most important factors when deciding on an espresso maker.

Convenience

Convenience is by far the most important factor when deciding between a manual or automatic espresso machine (followed shortly by cost, of course). See, both options have something going for them, but modern non-manual espresso makers optimize the work-to-payoff ratio far better than manuals do.

This is because, as implied by the name, manual espresso machines are, well, entirely manual. Due to this, you need to have full attention and involvement at every step, which can, unfortunately, be a real hassle without coffee in your system.

Non-manual espresso makers (i.e., semi-automatic machines or super-automatic espresso machines), on the other hand, ease some of that work from your shoulders. While you’ll still need to pay attention (at least in most cases), it’s generally limited to a few basic actions. This means that buyers with limited time in the mornings — or whenever you drink coffee, we don’t judge here — will generally opt for a more effortless option.

Ease of Use

This ties directly into convenience, as how quickly and easily you can use any given machine will have a large impact on how useful it is for you. If you have the attention span and fortitude to manually press out espresso, manuals are generally more rewarding. Though, notably, they’re undeniably harder to use and generally have a higher learning curve.

In contrast, just about any modern espresso machine will limit your work to grinding and tamping your coffee. This can vary machine-to-machine, as some (more budget) options still require a bit of human guidance, but even the most affordable and barebones of espresso machines will be leagues easier to use daily than the most high-end manual espresso maker.

Ultimately, I tend to weigh ease of use a bit lower on my “totem pole” of buying musts, but I’ve also done this long enough to know what my preferences are. If you’re like me, you’ll be willing to put more work into a single espresso shot in order to maximize the payout; if not, that’s okay — you still deserve a great machine.

Travel and Countertop Space

This is where manual espresso makers really shine. Because many of the ones in our list are truly old-school takes on a classic tool (with a few shiny bits and bobs, of course), they’re excellent for travel. In fact, some Flair espresso makers — listed below, I promise — even come with a travel-ready case for just that purpose.

This means that you’re able to break down your espresso maker into a surprisingly small, relatively lightweight package for camping, business travel, or just plain convenience.

That brings us to the other important note when buying a new espresso maker: counter space. If you’re in a small apartment or studio, chances are you don’t have a lot of space in the kitchen to spare. If this is the case, manual espresso machines are likely a great choice, as they tend to take up roughly half (if not less) of the space that a full-size espresso machine would.

The Best Manual Espresso Makers of 2024

Photo by MiloLabrador

1. The Flair 58+

This thing is an absolute beast and is arguably the best-made (traditional) manual on the market. Most of its features are identical to the Flair 58, listed next, though it notably features several key differences to make up for its increased price:

  • Custom walnut accents and branding
  • A shot mirror, in case you want to watch the shot of espresso from multiple angles
  • A removable preheat controller
  • High and low-flow Flair portafilters

Beyond this, though, the 58+ is nearly identical to its predecessor. While the price tag increase, realistically, primarily offers aesthetic upgrades, the removable preheat controller is quite handy. Rather than needing to stick around the machine while it heats, you’re able to walk off, grab the milk and sugar, a mug or two, and come back without issue. Heck, grab a paper and sit down for a second; nobody has to know but us.

  • Free shipping
  • We price match
  • Returnable

2. The Flair 58

So, a few things here. First off, we’ve covered this espresso maker a few times. I highly recommend peeking at this Expert review if you’re interested, but let’s hit the highlights.

The Flair 58 features the following:

  • Integrated pressure gauge
  • Integrated preheat controller
  • Top-tier 58mm Flair portafilter
  • Three brew temp presets (86°C, 90°C, 95°C)
  • An electrically-heated brew head; these differ from the 58+ in color, though are still of excellent quality.

Beyond these more obvious features, there is a little bit more to discuss. See, the Flair 58 — just like the 58+ — takes a few cues from its predecessors, improving where possible. When compared to the Flair Pro 2 or Neo Flex, the extraction lever is slightly longer, allowing more pressure with less effort. Additionally, the Flair 58 comes with an improved internal setup, ensuring a smoother brewing process.

Perhaps best of all, though, all metal parts of the Flair 58 are under a (limited) 5-year warranty, meaning there’s no need to worry about accidentally Hulking out on the aluminum lever.

3. The Flair Pro 2

The last of our “Best Of,” The Flair Pro 2 is sort of an OG in the modern manual espresso maker scene. It’s full of handy features, many of which sparked the improvements in the 58 line, while ensuring you get a more affordable machine. While you won’t get some of the sexier accents that come with its kin, you’ll get all you need to make killer coffee.

Some key features include:

  • Integrated pressure gauge
  • Carry case
  • Stainless steel lever and body
  • Bottomless proprietary Flair portafilter
  • High-grade silicone grips for ease of use and comfort

While there are clearly fewer extras here, the largest difference between the Pro 2 and the 58 line is that the Pro 2’s brew head is not electric. This means that you’ll need to manually heat the brew head with hot water, but its solid construction means that the brew head retains heat surprisingly well, meaning you don’t need to reheat between consecutive shots quite as often as you’d think.

Additionally, the pressure gauge was first seen on this model. While (in retrospect) this feels like a no-brainer, it makes a massive difference in terms of ease of use. Gone are the days of shrugging and saying, “I guess that feels like 30 lbs… right?” Now you know for sure.

It’s also worth noting that the Pro 2 only comes in white and black, with no wood accents, so it doesn’t quite fit the same aesthetic as the others on this list — but that may be a good thing for your home, so take a peek.

Honorable Mention: The Flair Neo Flex

I won’t go into too much detail here, but the Flair Neo Flex is far and away the best budget pick on this list. Sitting at $99, it’s a fantastic entry that, while a bit more barebones, still punches well above its weight. It’s a simple setup, featuring a(n):

  • Flow control portafilter
  • Bottomless 2-in-1 portafilter
  • Polycarbonate frame for lightweight, easy travel.

Ultimately, it’s one of the hottest items on Curated. While it didn’t quite beat out its cousins in the 58 and Pro line, it’s absolutely worth the money.

  • Free shipping
  • We price match
  • Returnable

The Best Espresso Machines of 2024

Photo by Melica

This is where we get to explore some cool gadgets. While the manuals above are all excellent machines, their charm comes from simplicity. In contrast, the espresso machines on this list are for people who want ease of use and, more likely than not, the ability to steam milk with their machine.

Let’s take a peek. It’s worth noting that I’ve covered all of these (and more) in this article, as well as this one; so check them out if you need more options.

1. The Terra Kaffe TK-01

While this may look like a space-age gadget from some far-off planet, the TK-01 is a killer machine. With an adjustable brew head and volumetric controls for grind dose, extraction volume, pressure, water, and steam, the Terra Kaffe is all about control. It features a(n):

  • 19 bars of pressure
  • 12-oz bean hopper
  • 57 fluid ounce water reservoir
  • Built-in conical burr grinder
  • Automatic steam wand

Ultimately, the Terra Kaffe TK-01 is a beast of a machine that prioritizes convenience and ease of use over just about everything else. If that weren’t enough, it takes up a surprisingly small amount of counter space, making it great for just about any setting.

2. The De’Longhi Dinamica

The De’Longhi Dinamica seems to be just about everyone on the internet’s favorite super-automatic espresso machine. While it does sacrifice some features that you’d expect from commercial machines in a coffee shop (namely multiple portafilter slots), it makes up for it with a truly incredible suite of features.

These include a(n):

  • 3.5” LCD touchscreen display (no more buttons!)
  • Dual Thermoblock boiler
  • Latte Crema automatic milk frothing system
  • 13-setting integrated conical burr grinder for any grind sizes
  • Preprogrammed and customizable recipes
  • 2-year warranty, plus an additional year after product registration

3. The De’Longhi Eletta Explore

Finally, we reach the De’Longhi Eletta Explore. This is one of De’Longhi’s flagship machines, and for good reason. It’s one of few machines on the market with the ability to use hot or cold extraction techniques. Along with a handy 3.5” touchscreen LCD, thermoblock heating, and an automatic milk frother (and a hefty 60-ounce water tank), the Eletta Explore has a lot going for it.

This makes it a clear winner for my fellow cold brew lovers, but it also comes with all of the bells and whistles you’d expect for such a machine, including a(n):

  • Over 50 pre-saved recipes for fire-and-forget use at the push of a button (er, screen)
  • Cold extraction
  • Bean Adapt Technology (customizable processes for varied coffee beans)
  • Built-in grinder (13 settings, conical burrs)
  • 2-year free parts and labor warranty

Realistically, this machine will serve most home users for years (if not decades) with excellent espresso, cold brew, and more. While it’s certainly a bit larger than some others on this list, it’s compact enough to justify in most settings — especially offices — without issue.

Final Word

No matter your preferences, the machines on this list are absolute killers at what they do. There are plenty of choices for price range, consistency, specific features (such as an integrated hopper and/or coffee grinder), and just about any aesthetic. If you’re looking to learn about manual espresso makers, you should swing by this article and maybe say hi!

Myself (and our other Curated Espresso Experts) are here for one reason, and that’s to talk coffee — so humor us.

Curated experts can help

Have a question about the article you just read or want personal recommendations? Connect with a Curated expert and get free recommendations for whatever you’re looking for!

Shop Coffee & Espresso on Curated

Flair 58 Plus
$640.00
Flair Espresso Flair 58 Manual Coffee Espresso
$575.00
Flair Espresso Flair Pro 2 Espresso Maker
$325.00

Browse more Coffee & Espresso

Flair Neo Flex
$99.00
Terra Kaffe TK-01 Espresso Machine
$895.00
De'Longhi Dinamica with Latte Crema System and LCD Display
$1,199.95

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